A Tale of Two Schools

Last Wednesday was picture day at the small private school my three oldest grandchildren attend. I never thought, pre-COVID, I’d be so grateful to see this annual rite of the school year actually happen.

Me in third grade, 1963

You see, these Rocky Mount grandchildren are attending school in person, every day Monday through Friday, but it’s a different story for my Charlotte grandson. He has yet to physically enter a classroom. I’m not sure there will be a first-grade picture to add to the kindergarten one of last fall.

Jack in kindergarten, 2019

His polo shirt may look private school, but he’s actually enrolled in a language immersion program in a Charlotte public school. He’s learning German, or he was last year. I’m not sure how much he’s picking up from this year’s Zoom sessions. Of even more concern to me is whether he’s learning to read–in English–something that I think is still a main objective for first graders.

Let me say right now: I’m not blaming Charlotte/Mecklenburg for not opening their doors. The system is huge: 179 public schools serving 147,501 students. How to ensure a reasonable level of safety for so many is full of COVID land mines. By contrast, the private school my Rocky Mount grandchildren attend has fewer than five hundred students in grades pre-K through twelfth–and nobody rides a bus to school.

If there’s a lesson here, it may be in how we’ve created these huge public school systems that are forced to move in lockstep when sometimes acting independently would be better. For example, as a former public school parent, I remember the frustration when snow had to melt on every back road out in the county before my girls could return to school even though our city street had been cleared for two days.

That was only a minor delay. The situation is far more dire now. Maybe, just maybe, some out-of-the-box thinking will get at least the younger children back on campus in these large public school districts, despite COVID. I can only hope.

So yes, the arrival of picture day last week made me grateful–but also sad. I like to think of school rituals that carry through the generations. I like to think of school children actually in school.

Jack’s mother in first grade, 1988

I wonder if the school photographers still give out those little black combs to students standing in line to have their pictures taken.

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